Politics and the literary world

I will be honest, I really had no idea what I was doing when I set up this site. I was restless and wanted someplace to post my book reivews and interviews; a place that was just about books and not burdened with the other clutter of my personal blog. I am not really sure what my audience is, will, or should be. Trying to connect with other book lovers seemed like a good idea, however, so I contacted a number of literary type sites and tried to promote my humble page. Many of them were gracious enough to link to me and so I began to read them regularly. I often find them fascinating but I must admit I am rather disconnected from the big city literary scene and I am often at a loss to figure out what they are talking about.

If you needed further proof that I am a million miles away from this culture, check out this year end wrap-up. The participants were:
– Alex Good, who runs goodreports.net, “Canada’s Premier Independent Book Site.”
Maud Newton, who has a well-regarded literary weblog.
– Robert Birnbaum, prolific interviewer at Identity Theory(where he also offers a reader’s progress).
-Jessa Crispin, the Bookslut herself.
– Michael Orthofer, who runs things at the complete review.
Intelligent and interesting people all, I am sure, but they are discussing a world with which I am not familiar. So as I am reaading this I suddenly realize what I should have figured out before, I am sort of in a limbo between the political blog world I normally inhabit and the literary blog world I am trying to understand. Given that most of my book reviews so far have really been “off the top of my head” type reactions to books I have read and that most of these books are not really the books literary people read, it is not surprising that I haven’t made a huge splash in the literary blog world. I am not sure I have found my niche or focus for this site yet.

Another thing that continues to jar me is the political perspective of a great many literary bloggers. The anti-Bush sentiment runs high and the left-wing perspective seems dominant. The above noted panel again brought this out. Maud Newton has this to say about the under-reported story of the year:

Perhaps this is my legal background talking, but the first underreported story that springs to my mind is the potential chilling effect of the USA Patriot Act on literature and journalism. I’ll refrain from launching into a political diatribe here, except to say that I don’t think comparisons to the Red Scare and the McCarthy Era are unwarranted.

This is really fascinating to me. How exactly have we entered an era of McCarthyism (put aside that loaded word) and another Red Scare? It seems to me that the scare is rather weak if you can become rich and famous by mocking and degrading the President of the United States. Can anyone honestly claim that the publishing word isn’t free to publish violent criticisms of the current administration? Isn’t it a fact that literary prizes are being awarded to people highly critical of the current American adminsitration or have a significant anti-America slant? Are there not bestsellers made up of anti-Bush and anti-administration arguments? The web is full of vitriol and diatribe, not too mention some of the wildest conspiracy theories around, about the supposedly all-powerful and tyranical despots in Washington and yet Maud worries about a new Red Scare? She cuts herself off for fear of lauching a political diatribe but perhaps on another occasion she can explain how this wild statement comports with reality.

Robert Birnbaum is no less apocalyptical:

On the other hand, Patriot Acts, celebrity war criminals prancing around with impunity and a triumphalist clique in power seem to conjure up the nightmare landscape of jack boots, brown shirts and Kristallnacht, book burning and concentration camps (what is Guantanamo)?

Has it come to this? A Republican in office and suddenly we are making reffences to “jack boots, brown shirts and Kristallnacht?” Is he honestly comparing the detention facilities in Cuba with Nazi concentration camps? Is the Bush administration really a “a triumphalist clique in power?” Again, rhetoric like this leaves me incredulous. Do these people live in the same world? Obviously, we don’t. I am not sure what the connection between the literary and the political is and how they influence each other. Of the Best of 2003 recommendations they make, I haven’t read a single one or heard of most.

This is not to say we can’t communicate. Despite Maud’s statements, I enjoy reading her blog and find her personal stories, for example, fascinating. Robert Birnbaum’s occasional political zingers aside, I find his interviews inspiring and great reads. I guess I am simply pointing out a disconnect I find interesting. I am not sure what it means or if I will, or should, do anything about it. Just thinking out loud here . . .

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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4 Comments

  • “It seems to me that the scare is rather weak if you can become rich and famous by mocking and degrading the President of the United States. Can anyone honestly claim that the publishing word isn’t free to publish violent criticisms of the current administration? Isn’t it a fact that literary prizes are being awarded to people highly critical of the current American administration or have a significant anti-America slant? Are there not bestsellers made up of anti-Bush and anti-administration arguments? The web is full of vitriol and diatribe, not too mention some of the wildest conspiracy theories ”

    What strikes me about your words is that it sounds just like what happen in the last administration. The same stuff went on almost non-stop. My point is that both sides are equally guilty. For example, a just published book “Deliver Us from Evil : Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism” by S Hannity, is, I think, an example of what you mean? Just the title is an example of an anti-American diatribe. Many Americans are conservative, and just as many are liberals, but all are individuals with many different views about many different issues facing our nation. In fact, the terms liberal and conservative are not well defined. But, when someone attempts to define Liberalism as somehow associated with evil, terrorism and despotism they should be condemned by all. Is that happening? If a liberal produced a similar title would all condemn it?

  • “It seems to me that the scare is rather weak if you can become rich and famous by mocking and degrading the President of the United States. Can anyone honestly claim that the publishing word isn’t free to publish violent criticisms of the current administration? Isn’t it a fact that literary prizes are being awarded to people highly critical of the current American administration or have a significant anti-America slant? Are there not bestsellers made up of anti-Bush and anti-administration arguments? The web is full of vitriol and diatribe, not too mention some of the wildest conspiracy theories ”

    What strikes me about your words is that it sounds just like what happen in the last administration. The same stuff went on almost non-stop. My point is that both sides are equally guilty. For example, a just published book “Deliver Us from Evil : Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism” by S Hannity, is, I think, an example of what you mean? Just the title is an example of an anti-American diatribe. Many Americans are conservative, and just as many are liberals, but all are individuals with many different views about many different issues facing our nation. In fact, the terms liberal and conservative are not well defined. But, when someone attempts to define Liberalism as somehow associated with evil, terrorism and despotism they should be condemned by all. Is that happening? If a liberal produced a similar title would all condemn it?

  • Yes, I agree there is overblown rhetoric on all sides. I criticised Ann Coulter for her rhetoric on this site. Certainly, libertarians have contributed to this view that the Bush administration is shredding the constitution.

    I just find it jarring to see how strong the language has become on some sites. I guess I didn’t read these type of sites during the Clinton administration so I can’t compare.

  • Yes, I agree there is overblown rhetoric on all sides. I criticised Ann Coulter for her rhetoric on this site. Certainly, libertarians have contributed to this view that the Bush administration is shredding the constitution.

    I just find it jarring to see how strong the language has become on some sites. I guess I didn’t read these type of sites during the Clinton administration so I can’t compare.